How much effort should I put into teen's vegetarian phase? XP in Parenting Teens - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 14 Old 04-30-2015, 05:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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How much effort should I put into teen's vegetarian phase? XP in Parenting Teens

Full disclosure: I am totally overwhelmed right now by numerous things that are going on with my special-needs twins, who are weeks away from the end of high school. I'm not sleeping. I am having to consciously will myself to get out of bed and start the day, most mornings, and must remind myself throughout the day not to cry over nothing, like that first month after giving birth. (Today, PMS just might be adding to it.) I mean to post about these bigger issues, but they seem so complicated that I can't find the time to put them into words properly.

So the fact that my almost-16-y-o- step-son's new diet feels like a no-win situation for me (or - worse - annoys me) is, I recognize, mostly about me. I realize he's doing nothing wrong by experimenting with vegetarianism.

At best, it's been a challenge the past few months to cook dinner for our family of 6 and keep up with evening housework in general. I drive kids around from approximately 3-6pm. Then, either the twins' tutor works with them at the dining room table (open to the kitchen) from 6 or 7pm, sometimes as late as 9:30pm; and/or I tutor them myself, often until 10pm. So unless I prepare dinner before 3 (and I'm just not always that "together"), I'm making it during tutoring or while doing the tutoring. Plus, I have a 7-y-o who wants and deserves more attention from me than he's getting, right now.

I've always aimed for one meatless meal per week. But my husband doesn't like even that; and the twins (who are athletes) crave their meat, the other days. I dread the thought of starting to make (and do the clean-up after making) two meals, most nights, so my step-son gets adequate protein. But the alternatives don't work:

A) I can be the insensitive stepmonster who doesn't care about him, his nutrition or his chosen diet; making him figure out adding nuts, cheese or beans to our side dishes.

B) I can let my husband do more of the cooking. Tonight, for example, he announced he was making dinner (despite me having already planned and shopped for a meal the rest of us really love). He made calzones, specifically so we'd all have our own individual, customized ones and DSS's would have no meat. That was nice (and gave me the time to post this). But DH works from home and is generally busy around dinner time. Eventually, he would resent cooking dinner regularly.

Also, I'm just annoyed:

> DSS lives with us full-time and, the past few years he's gotten to where he scarcely speaks to me. Unless DH insists, he'll often skip meals rather than eat with me or eat something I cook (even before the vegetarianism). He didn't even tell me about his dietary change; nor bother to decline meat when I've offered to serve it to him, recently. I thought his taking it, not touching it, then dumping it in the trash after dinner was simply part of his general hostility toward me. I'm annoyed by the underlying message that, all along, I've actually been the rude one, with my insensitivity to his dietary preferences; and now I need to get with the program and cook special things just for a kid who can't be bothered to speak to me...and if I won't, I'm a jerk.

> While I respect vegetarianism in principle, it's hard for me not to see this as another phase of the same picky eating he's done all along. When younger, he binged on junk food and made excuses for not eating healthy things, by claiming he only liked name-brand or "exotic" things. "I would eat lunch, if you bought Lunchables. Not the store-brand knock offs. I only like Lunchables," or, "I would eat fruit, but only exotic kinds." So, I'd call his bluff, ask what kind he liked and buy it, but he still wouldn't eat it.

When he revealed his vegetarianism to DH a couple nights ago, DSS said it was to be healthier, not because he has a principled objection to meat. So, why can't he eat - say - the brown rice stir fry I made (before his vegetarian reveal) and leave the chunks of skinless, boneless, baked chicken on his plate? (I.e., the stir-fry was not drenched in animal fat.) But, no. He won't eat anything that meat has touched. So far, this has resulted in DH taking him out to dinner twice, since he announced he was a vegetarian and then making individualized calzones, tonight. Not exactly a precedent I'm excited about maintaining.

And meanwhile, despite this health-food kick, he's not concerned about skipping meals, chugging Red Bull and Monster, nor the cheese, lard, butter or sugar content of meat-free things he enjoys eating.

I feel like the vegetarianism is only partly sincere and at least partly for attention. And, as the stepmom, I feel snarky and mean saying it. Again, I'm feeling snarky in general, about things that have nothing to do with DSS.

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#2 of 14 Old 04-30-2015, 07:11 PM
 
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Honestly, at 16 I think he should be doing a lot of the legwork for his diet. I don't think it's fair to expect you to cater thanklessly to him. I think there's probably some pretty simple compromises you can make. Keep the meatless Monday and that's one meal done. Perhaps he could have leftovers of this another night when you plan something impossible to make vegetarian. Lots of other meals are pretty easy to make meatless and then add the meat at the end. Works well for pasta dishes. 3-thing type meals (meat, starch, veg) should be pretty easy, too. He could make his own scrambled eggs, tofu, veggie burger, etc. to go with the sides.

But, yeah. I think you can make sure there's stuff available for him to eat, but he should be largely responsible for prep and nutrition. And don't sweat the protein. Honestly it's not that hard to get enough protein on a veg diet.
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#3 of 14 Old 04-30-2015, 09:22 PM
 
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OMG, so much cooking.

Okay, so - my house is not your house, all disclaimers apply. I cook for five people with terrible schedules, including two growing children and a marathon runner. I do not cook every night, because I just can't. I cook giant batches of things, and put leftovers in disposable tupperware. Two of my go-toes might work for you: pasta with red sauce, and chana masala.

I use protein enriched pasta. If I had a tighter budget and was worried about protein, I would throw in white beans. I make my own tomato sauce, but there's nothing wrong with the stuff from jars. I brown ground turkey and throw it in, but if you have one vegetarian, you can hold the ground turkey off to the side, add it to the plates of people who want it, and pack some leftovers meatless before mixing the turkey in altogether.

Chana masala is chickpeas with small quantities of canned tomatoes and Indian spices. There are a ton of recipes on the internet. If you can't find an ingredient, it is often okay to skip it. It goes well with rice and it reheats like a champ.

If your 18 yo twins have never been required to cook, you are unlikely to make progress by insisting that the 16 yo cook now. It might be best to insist all the teenage boys learn, because it's a life skill and they can help out, dangit.
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#4 of 14 Old 04-30-2015, 09:57 PM
 
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Not a blended family, but wanted to answer all the same. Hope that is OK

I agree with the PP.

I'm a "mama them" kind of mama, in that I love to cook and bake and bless my family with that form of "love". With that said, I also teach them how to care for themselves. My son who is 18 and leaving soon has done a really great job picking up cooking skills, which is great, because his schedule with work and other activities means I am not able to cook for him all the time. I also have newborn twins (remember that period of time, OP? LOL!) so everyone is pitching in a bit more, and things I normally have gotten too goody good for (for our family) like baking all our bread from scratch, etc., has gone to my girls making AND buying store bought..shudder..LOL!

We just need to be realistic, and it's not realistic OR even helpful for you to have to do it all for their specific request. I agree with @MeepyCat who said she makes large batches, etc. If there is food there you have prepared, or the means for your teens to make what they want, then you have provided for them. They will be done a great service by understanding what it means to cook and clean up, and how much effort you always put into it, by doing some/all of it themselves.
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#5 of 14 Old 05-01-2015, 05:10 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
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If your 18 yo twins have never been required to cook, you are unlikely to make progress by insisting that the 16 yo cook now. It might be best to insist all the teenage boys learn, because it's a life skill and they can help out, dangit.
On the surface, that does look like a fairness issue - and I feel like maintaining even superficial appearances of fairness is important, in a stepfamily.

But actually, all 3 teens have taken cooking classes (one of the most popular electives at their small, Catholic high school) and none of them mind helping cook, in theory. I don't have the twins help because it is simply an impossibility. It takes up SO MUCH of their time, just to keep up with their classes. Meanwhile, DSS is borderline-gifted, does most or all of his homework in a 45-minute after-school study session and spends most of his time at home hanging out in his room, playing guitar or playing video/computer games. It really wouldn't be unfair to have him help more with cooking. And I've reflected, after reading several responses, that maybe that's best anyway, if his new diet sprung up in part because he wants special attention.

Honestly, the main deterrent to him helping cook - or helping modify his own meals - is us having to share our small kitchen. It makes me uncomfortable to do things with this kid that I wanted so much, for so many years, to feel close to and whom I currently feel hates me. And he seems to hate feeling like he's cooperating with me, about anything.

BUT, if he made one meal/week he could have the kitchen to himself. And - although neither of us is excited about him puttering around the kitchen heating up veggie burgers while I'm finishing making the main meal - it would probably be good for both of us, to be forced to interact more. And reasonable, for him to understand that if he chooses a special diet - and he knows how to cook and has the time - that he should help with the extra work.

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#6 of 14 Old 05-01-2015, 07:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Aaaaand there it is. 9:30am and DH is already pissed with me that he made dinner last night and cleaned up after it, this morning.

I didn't ask him to make dinner. He made it because he assumed what I made wouldn't be up-to-snuff for his son.

I didn't suggest he let all the kids pile their dinner dishes in the sink. When he started cooking, all the dishes were clean and there was plenty of room for more dirty ones in the dishwasher, because I had cleaned the kitchen while the kids were at school. When I cook, he doesn't do the dishes.

He is also pissed because I've switched weekends with my ex, because the twins need help catching up on so many things at school and my ex and his wife have too many social activities this weekend, so they suggested switching. Why can't my ex do his share, when the twins need extra help? I don't know. The point is, he doesn't. I'm the mother and I make sure they get what they need. Does DH's ex do her share of ANYthing, including paying DSS's bills? No. I do her share. Should I be angry with DH about it?

DH criticized me because he arranged for our youngest to have a friend over Saturday, while I spend a few hours walking a half-marathon with my dad. When the twins were home last weekend and I had to focus so much on them, *I* didn't schedule a play-date for the 7-y-o, even though he asked me to. Yes, that's because - despite the twins' needs - I spent Saturday taking the 7-y-o to the Earth Day festival, where he had a great time! I'm supposed to apologize for having my older kids 2 weekends in a row, because I'm not doing enough for my everyone else? I'm doing the best I can! What's WRONG with DH pitching in?? The 1st many months of this school year, he was gone and I did everything. And, in all honesty, the reason DH arranged a play-date isn't superior parenting, as much as wanting someone else around to entertain the little one while I'm not here. And how often do I spend 4 hours getting exercise alone with my dad? Once a year! I haven't even trained for it, because I've been so focused on what everyone else needs from me.

Really, really feeling sorry for myself. Right now, I just want OUT!

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#7 of 14 Old 05-01-2015, 11:58 AM
 
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You sure have a full plate these days! It is so hard to be everything to everyone, try to just take a deep breath and relax. Maybe you can go out on a date with your husband and communicate clearly to him all the stress you are feeling. Be completely honest about how overwhelmed you feel but that you also want to care for ALL the children to the best of your ability. If there are underlying issues with his son maybe they will come up and you can figure out how to best address them. It sounds like you really want to have a good relationship with your SS but maybe he is going through things he hasn't shared. Communication is the key to any relationship. Hugs to you, keep up the good work!

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#8 of 14 Old 05-01-2015, 08:16 PM
 
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Maybe you can go out on a date with your husband and communicate clearly to him all the stress you are feeling.
I was thinking something similar. Is there any way you and your DH could spend some time together this weekend without any of the kids? Even if you don't have feel like you have time for a date, go out for an ice cream or just walk around the block. You guys have A LOT going on, and taking a time out from it to remember that you really are on the same side might help.


On the teens with school pressures cooking issue: My DD with autism is required cook once a week. You could aim for a weekend meal rather than weeknight meals if that is more realistic.


I would wait until school is out to make changes, because this is such a stressful time anyway.


My younger DD made baked chicken thighs a green beans every week last school year. It only takes minutes to get the chicken in the oven, and then she studied while it cooked. I think that this is a life skill -- how to create a simple meal that doesn't take a lot of time that you actually like.


Are your sons going away to college this fall? I remember you talking about it a long time ago. Would it help with some of the stress and pressure to keep in mind that before you know it, this phase will be over? There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the end of the tunnel isn't that far away.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#9 of 14 Old 05-01-2015, 08:54 PM
 
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From a different perspective. I was that kid. Lol I was a vegetarian from age 13-18. My parents really tried to get me to eat meat at first. Did not work. Teens are stubborn. So I would skip that step. If you are worried about his health I know my mom snuck in chicken broth to what ever she could. I never knew. Lol I agree he should cook more if he is making special requests. The twins are not so why should they have to cook? I cooked most my own meals them because I was a pain. Although it would be good for all the kids to cook. If you are going to make one dish just take a portion out before adding in the meat. That's what my mom did. Also I would make sure if the main dish is meat, have all the sides be vegetarian. More than likely he will grow out of it when he realizes it's a lot of work. Or right when he moves out like I did! Lol
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#10 of 14 Old 05-04-2015, 12:02 PM
 
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Disclaimer: I'm a veg who also wouldn't pick chicken out of stir fry and then eat it, so I get that part I wasn't veg until I was cooking on my own though-my parents wouldn't have been thrilled by it.

However, by 16, I was also in charge of making several meals. Why can't your dss participate in cooking if it's that important to him? He might just refuse to do it, but I promise he isn't going to starve himself (much like a toddler will eventually eat even if they refuse most everything!) If he wants to be picky, that's on him, not you. You can accommodate him as much as possible, but you don't need to be ending over backwards to do it.

I'd invite dss to add some veg proteins to the grocery list (tofu, beans, nuts, etc.) and invite him to add ideas to the menu planning *if* he's going to do it in a respectful and kind way and help out in the kitchen. He's 16-he'll theoretically be in charge of feeding himself in a couple of short years. this is not unreasonable, no matter how much he (and/or your husband) want to pretend that you are being a "step-monster."

A couple of ideas for veg meals that are easy to make with multiple or veg proteins: MYO tacos/burritos-heat up a can of beans separate from the usual ground meat, then invite everyone to put their own together. Pasta, just make plain sauce or you can buy "meat" crumble (I don't love this, but he might), egg quiche if he eats eggs, soups (lentil, minestrone, etc.) Stir fry with peanut noodles and tofu instead of chicken (just make the chicken in a separate pan to add as everyone is served)

It sounds like your dh is terrified that his son is unhappy at his house, and so is making the situation worse by sucking up to his son and blaming the issues on you. That sucks. This is more his problem than yours, which unfortunately means he needs to be the one to fix it. I'm so sorry you aren't getting the gratidue and thanks you deserve-you sound spread really thin and like you are doing your absolute best to make everyone happy. Your dh is way out of line to act like you taking care of your children two weekends in a row is a bad thing, especially given you take care of his child/children ALL the time!
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#11 of 14 Old 05-04-2015, 03:20 PM
 
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Honestly, I think you need to focus more on your husband than your stepson.

Your son isn't making you a stepmonster- your husband is. I don't base it just on this, you've repeatedly said in threads that your husband defends his son from you even when you're being perfectly reasonable. Your stepson is following his dad's (and mom's) lead.

I don't mean to demonize your husband, either. He's also facing a great deal of stress, I doubt he's coping much better than you are. My partner and I are very much guilty of taking stress out on each other- yesterday we had a fight that left us both in tears. But we make up, communicate, focus on avoiding such fights and try to appreciate what the other does.

You are in crisis mode. That won't change any time soon, you've got at least 3 special needs kids in the house and two exes who aren't making this easier. You two NEED to face this as a unified front.

Something needs to change. You aren't doing well and I'm really worried about you.

I really don't think that you're the one who should be asking these things. This boy refuses to accept you as any kind of authority, your husband has repeatedly shown you aren't anywhere near the status of "parent" to his son. We could give you the perfect solution, but you couldn't implement it. I don't think there's anything you can do without either your husband's support or becoming a robot who doesn't need sleep.

I think you need to focus on your marriage and yourself right now. Try your best with your stepson, but forgive yourself.
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#12 of 14 Old 05-04-2015, 03:48 PM
 
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Do you have a grill outside? A good way of keeping the kitchen from feeling like a pinball machine is to provide alternative foods that can be cooked elsewhere.

When my sister went through her vegetarian phase, my mom got her tofu hotdogs/burgers and called it a day. He can figure out how to cook those, I'm sure. Some cans of vegetarian chilli or soups are easy to prepare, too.

I'd request that he sit at the table at mealtimes, whetehr he's eating right then or not, and let him prepare his separate meals when you aren't using the kitchen. If your kitchen and dining area are in the same room he could participate in supper while he prepares his food.

Alternatively, if your husband wants you to be supportive of step sons diet, you could request that step son find and print out simple vegetarian recipes online that look good to him. You could cook vegetarian meals a few times a week, and on those nights anyone who wants meat, can cook and add a meat hotdog or burger to their meal. Your husband can't be simultaneously annoyed that you're not accomodating stepson, and not accomodating him, when their preferences are contradictory.
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#13 of 14 Old 05-06-2015, 10:00 AM - Thread Starter
 
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How things are evolving...

Thank you all, for so many good suggestions re accommodating a vegetarian and guiding him to accommodate himself.

I'm consciously trying to sleep better; got some nice endorphins from the half-marathon (...and am past the PMS...) and my perspective is improving.

Two nights ago was the first time I made dinner, since DSS told DH he's a vegetarian. Prior to that, DH has either taken him out or jumped in to cook - either customized things like the calzones, or vegetarian for everyone. DSS has loved this, spending more time than usual in the common spaces of our home, chatting with DH, often about food and cooking. He eagerly predicts that the longer DH practices vegetarian cooking, the sooner he'll join DSS and become one. DSS's mom is also experimenting with vegetarianism... A few mornings, DSS has convinced DH to get up at 5am to work out together.

On one hand, exercise and healthy eating is a much preferable way for DSS to bid for DH's attention than destructive things he's done in the past. And wanting attention is understandable. DH worked out of state most of this school year. DSS's mom lives out of state. He's been stuck with a stepmom he doesn't like and 3 step-/half-brothers who get to have their mom around, every day. DSS may even fantasize that he and both his parents are on a health kick together, leaving out the rest of us; that he's found a way to shift his biological family back to the center of the picture. I can't resent any of that.

So, the real problem is not DSS's diet, nor the attention-seeking, only the divisive element of it...and whether DH will let it continue to be divisive.

By the time I cooked dinner 2 nights ago, DH was happy to be relieved of duty. I made a 1-dish meal that's been popular with all 6 of us before, and set some aside for DSS before adding meat to the rest of the dish. I had stepped out of the room when everyone began serving themselves and returned to find "my" 3 kids around the table with full plates and DSS and DH sitting there with nothing in front of them, glaring. DSS had assumed there was nothing for him to eat and DH had decided not to eat, if DSS "couldn't".

I felt so unfairly judged and sided-against by my partner! I pointed out that in the 8 years we've all lived together, I've never done anything that would lead a reasonable person to imagine that I'd feed everyone except DSS. So why would he and DH jump to that conclusion - and sit there with such sour faces, making everyone else feel guilty for eating in front of them - without even bothering to look inside the second pot I had warming on the stove?

DSS still didn't eat, but DH did. Yesterday, DH asked me out to lunch and he brought up that DSS is obviously using his new diet for attention and that it's not sustainable for us to plan meals as though DSS's preferences matter more than everyone else's. On his own, DH decided to do what people here have suggested: take DSS to the grocery to pick out meat alternatives which he can make himself, when he doesn't like what the rest of us are eating. DH assumes the vegetarianism won't last long, once DSS starts putting effort into his own meals. (Not that I mind if it lasts, as long as it's handled reasonably.)

Last night, my twins both received a major award during Honors Night at school. The ceremony dragged on until 9pm, by which time our 7-y-o was coming unglued. DH suggested a late, celebratory dinner at a steak house the twins love, with buckets of raw peanuts on the table, where little kids are welcome to throw the shells on the floor. DSS was livid - more so, when I reminded him how huge and mouth-watering their veggies tend to be, how many varieties they offer and that their "Vegetarian Plate" is any 4 sides you want: veggies, starches and salads. I asked if he was open to eating fish and he growled, "I CAN'T eat that!" (like he's ever discussed his new diet with me; or as though it's a strict medical mandate I should know about, rather than a choice. His mother, for example, is eating fish but not meat). He refused to order anything, snacking on peanuts and buttered yeast rolls (which was, of course, much healthier than a salad, I guess), fuming and not talking to us.

When DH ordered a side salad and nothing else, I thought he was pouting along with DSS and I felt angry that that evening couldn't just be about the twins. Then I decided not to help make the night about DSS's diet. If a grown man and an almost-16-y-o choose not to eat dinner, why do I need to concern myself with it? I smiled, toasted the twins, chatted and enjoyed myself - and so did DH. He completely ignored DSS's pouting and was lots of fun. Later, he told me he ordered a meatless salad hoping DSS would follow his lead and order one (and chose a little salad because, after all, it was almost 10pm by the time we ate).

I know it's hard for DH, when he feels torn between one of his kids and anyone else - and he and I have a number of things to work through, now that he's back at home full-time - but I hold out hope that he'll figure out how to support DSS's diet without blaming me for failing to become DSS's short-order cook. DSS can get attention through working out with DH and getting more involved in meal prep. The attention doesn't have to be from making the entire family modify our cooking, eating and dining out habits, to prioritize his.
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Last edited by VocalMinority; 05-06-2015 at 10:15 AM.
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#14 of 14 Old 05-06-2015, 02:38 PM
 
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How often does dss get time with his dad? I mean one on one time. Or that your step son and youngest get time just with their dad (giving your twins some "us and mom" time as well)? That might be a very good change to implement if it's not a common occurrence, especially after dad was away so much.

Getting more time with his son might help your husband as well. It sounds like he's still trying to win his son's favor and "make up" for things. Maybe they could start selecting and cooking meals together one night a week?

It sounds like progress is being made, which is really good. It's not good that your husband was willing to assume the worst of you like that- but it sounds like you also assumed the worst of him at the celebratory dinner. You both handled it well, and handling it well is more important than never messing up.
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